Thomas Cook’s sales and e-commerce director explained to delegates the operator’s reasoning behind insisting the whole group – including Freedom members – put SeaWorld on stop-sale.
Following a panel session, Phil Gardner was asked by a delegate why Freedom Travel Group members were being subjected to Thomas Cook rules. While Freedom is part of the Cook group, members operate independently.
Cook announced in July that following customer demand it would drop SeaWorld in 2019 and stop selling trips to any attractions featuring captive orcas. That policy has now been extended to all SeaWorld attractions.
“It was quite a tough decision and I went round the houses in my own mind quite a lot,” said Gardner.
“We didn’t actually make a decision ourselves to put SeaWorld on stop-sale.
“Ultimately, we’ve parted company with SeaWorld over the fact we haven’t been able to reach an agreement.”
But Gardner added: “If there was an opportunity to work with SeaWorld again in the future in an environment where they didn’t keep orcas in captivity, we may well look at that. It’s not a complete ruling out; it is what it is for today.”
Addressing the question of why Freedom members had to abide by the same rules, Gardner said: “I just couldn’t reconcile the fact we’d made a very bold statement about the orcas [while] keeping it on sale somewhere within the group.
“It was a very difficult thing to explain to the public… we ended up having to take a black-and-white view. It was a tough one because I know some of you wanted to sell it.”
Gardner was applauded when he added: “I accept that’s not a great answer for everyone… but that’s the decision we made.”